Supporting all children in 'celebrating themselves'
As a Black child growing up in Connecticut, Savannah Strong figured out, all too quickly, how to fit in. In first grade she begged her parents to let her get her hair chemically straightened. In middle school at the predominantly white Greenwich Academy, she learned to call the tan crayons “skin-color crayons,” even though they weren’t her skin color.
She describes it now as having to shrink herself. “I just felt as though I could only share a small part of myself – the part of myself that felt palatable to the broader community.”
Strong went on to earn a bachelor’s in history at Princeton and eventually returned to Greenwich Academy as a teacher; later, she also served as the school’s associate director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. A goal of her work was to ensure that no child ever felt a need to shrink themselves. “I wanted every single one of our kids – our children of color, our queer kids, our religious minorities, our kids with learning disabilities – to be able to celebrate themselves and be celebrated by the kids around them.”
After five years at Greenwich Academy, Strong left last year to begin Stanford GSE’s master’s program in Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies. The flexible curriculum has allowed her to take a wide range of courses, including ones on qualitative research methods, leading change in schools, and the history of African American education, as well as a d.school course on “needfinding” – the discovery process that takes place before problem-solving can begin.
Along the way, she made a point of not thinking about the next step in her career. “I didn’t want this to be a year about production,” she says. Instead, she used the time to reflect, to think critically, and to focus on learning for learning’s sake – an experience she calls “an incredible gift.”
She managed to do all of that and still come out with a job offer: She’ll soon be joining the Bay Area–based Nueva School as director of social justice and equity. “I love the work of being in schools,” she says. “I love the work of creating really healthy organizational culture, where students and educators feel that they can show up as their full selves – where they can think creatively and dream expansively.”